Widely Known Astringent
The white oak is probably the best known of all oak species. It is found as far north as Maine, as far west as Minnesota, and as far south as Florida and Texas. It is especially abundant on the western slopes of the Appalachian Mountains and in the Ohio Valley. White oak can be found growing anywhere from hardwood forests to sandy plains; in gravelly ridges, well drained coves, or rich uplands. The white oak has also been planted as an ornamental tree in many areas of the Western United States and elsewhere.
This magnificent tree usually grows 60 to 100 feet high with a trunk eight feet in diameter. It’s deciduous leaves are 5 to 9 inches long and 2 to 4 inches wide. The flowers of the oak, which usually appear in April, later develop into the fruit known as the acorn. The oblong acorns are set in a bowl-like cup which is covered with many warty scales. The acorns of the white oak have been used as a food source over much of the world. In many cases they have supplied the main nourishment for many Indian tribes.
The slow, steady growth and large stature of the white oak have long been patriotic and religious symbols. The oak became the symbol not only of the Greek god Zeus, but of the Old Germanic god Donar as well. For a long time, a spray of oak was even engraved on one side of the sixpence and the shilling.
Oak timber is hard and tough, which made it the best construction material in olden days for ships and house frames. Tall, lightly branched oak trees are used today for high-class joinery and furniture. The bark is universally used to tan leather, and the extracted tannin, when mixed with copper sulfate, produces a durable red, purple dye.
Of the more than fifty species of oak found in the United States, the white oak has been the most important medicinal species. White oak is a classic example of an astringent herb. Its constituents act by precipitating protein in order to tighten the tissues of the body. The bark, leaves, and fruits of the white oak contain tannins. As with all tannins, this herb exerts an astringent and mild antiseptic action. It is these tannic acids that have been shown to have antiviral, antimicrobial, and growth depressant effects. The astringent action of the tannins are very effective in the treatment of chilblains, frostbite, hemorrhoids, and itchy and festering rashes.
Oak bark is the most medicinal part of the herb. The bark can be used internally and externally to treat almost everything from dysentery, diphtheria, prolapsed uterus, ulcerated bladder, piles, varicose veins, tumors and ringworm, to colon troubles, gonorrhea, cholera, gangrene, and infant hemoptysis.
Oak bark’s advantage is that it does not irritate the skin or mucus membranes. A decoction of chopped bark is used as a gargle or mouthwash for sore throats, as a vaginal douche for leucorrhea and as an application for burns, chilblains and hemorrhoids. It relieves the stomach by paving the way for better internal absorption and secretion, thus improving metabolism. The oak bark tea acts like a resin in a strengthening way on the outer vessels; often dangerous fistulas on the rectum are dissolved and healed.
White oak contains the minerals manganese, calcium, and zinc. Recommended intake is one or two capsules between meals two times daily. A tea may also be made and applied topically as an astringent or used as a gargle or mouthwash.
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Herbs That Heal by Michael A. Weiner, Ph.D. and Janet Weiner (Mill Valley, California: Quantum Books, 1994).
Medicinal Plants and their Uses by Hans Fluck (Hong Kong: W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd. 1988).
Nutritional Herbology by Mark Peterson (Warsaw, Indiana: Wendell W. Whitman Company, 1994).
“Oak Bark” by Dr. John R. Christopher, M.H. in The Herbalist (Vol. 1 No. 3, 1976).
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs by Sarah Bunney (Aventinum, Prague: Dorset Press, 1984).
The Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants by Frantisek Stary (Aventinum, Prague: Dorset Press, 1991).
The Wild Rose Scientific Herbal by Terry Willard Ph. D. (Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Wild Rose College of Natural Healing, 1991).